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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, August 5, 2006

House hopefuls seek to fix No Child

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Government Writer

With two-thirds of Hawai'i's public schools failing under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, all the prominent candidates seeking to fill the 2nd Congressional District House seat agree that something needs to change.

The law puts pressure on public schools nationwide to bring every student up to grade-level proficiency in all core subjects by 2014. Many educators agree the goal is admirable, but also impossible, particularly without additional funding or relaxing the rigid guidelines.

"It seems designed to fail," said Greg Knudsen, spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Six Democratic and two Republican candidates polled by The Advertiser said the law needs to be amended, or at least adequately funded.

However, two other Democrats former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono and state Sen. Gary Hooser said they would support a repeal of the law, although Hooser also suggested full funding as a remedy, as well as allowing states to opt out.

Robert McClelland, director of state DOE's Planning and Evaluation office, is hoping for amendments to the law rather than an outright repeal. "I don't believe that's going to be likely," he said. "I think the feds need to take hard look at the impact of the law on local and state educational institutions," he said.

McClelland suggested that the federal government needs to examine the cost of the law, not just in terms of financial impact, but also in terms of the personnel needed to carry out the requirements. "(These employees are) redirected from other things that might improve school systems or improve the quality of instruction in the schools," he said.

But money is important, too.

State Sen. Clayton Hee, former state Sen. Matt Matsunaga, state Sen. Ron Menor and state Rep. Brian Schatz, like Hooser, believe the federal government should provide more funding.

McClelland has put adequate federal funding at the top of his wish list.

The other priority, according to McClelland, is flexibility to demonstrate student improvement besides standardized test scores, such as a "growth model" being piloted by a few states this year.

City Councilman Nestor Garcia said one thing that should be standardized is the measures used to report results, which vary from state to state.

State Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, Matsunaga and Menor mentioned flexibility or a recognition of Hawai'i's unique differences among the changes they would seek.

Hirono and Menor said the federal law places too great an emphasis on standardized testing the main measure of a school's performance.

According to McClelland, "the unintended consequence of the law is schools may feel forced to do away with some of the activities in the school that help a kid be more well-rounded, in terms of art, music and citizenship education. ... We need to attend to those, as well as the core academic subjects."

Republican state Sen. Bob Hogue said the public schools need improvement, but said micromanagement of the public schools by the federal government is not the answer.

His opponent in the Republican primary, former state Rep. Quentin Kawananakoa, had the most forgiving opinion of the law, calling it a "bold initiative," but he also noted it needed some amendments.

Views of other candidates for the seat will be in a future article. They are Democrats Hanalei Aipoalani and Joe Zuiker and nonpartisan candidate Robert Wilcox.

Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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